Doing a write-up about a band like As Cities Burn is always a little bit difficult; because like a great
book or film, their albums take much dedication and many repeated encounters if you are to grasp all of the vivid imagery
inherent and the overall message trying to be conveyed. To simply take a few listens in the days and weeks leading up to its
release and then slap a rating on it, feels somewhat cheap and unfair. But here is an honest attempt.
Hell or High Water is an album about water. It is about being submerged, or baptized, in it, because the only other
option is literal Hell. Obviously, this has eternal connotations, as Christ refers to Himself as "the Living Water" in Scripture.
But Hell or High Water, as both of As Cities Burn's previous efforts have attempted, wants to take Scriptural truth and
apply it to every day life, as it was meant to be read. In short, Hell or High Water is about the Living Water, and
what life looks like when we are not submerged in Him.
And speaking of such imagery, it is better to lunge into Hell or High Water for yourself, rather than be given a
track-by-track synopsis by another humble source. But the conventional church of today is a running theme throughout the album's
ten tracks; or more specifically, stepping away from it in order to find what Christ is doing outside of its walls. The lyrics of
As Cities Burn have always been deep and insightful and convicting, and Hell or High Water is no exception.
The boys, once again, have decided to take their music in another direction. Though it is less of a marked change than their
debut was to their sophomore release, the difference is still, well, marked. This time around, it is stripped down rock 'n roll
with experimental touches for good measure. The licks are still very much As Cities Burn, but the whole record just has a very
nautical feel to it, if that is even possible. Also, it is worth noting that former front man T.J Bonette makes a very brief
appearance, fittingly, on the album's opening track, "'87 Sheepdog," to scream on one of the song's final choruses.
For newcomers, the appearance is barely noticeable, but old time fans will let out a "Be still, my heart" sigh and remember
fondly the old days.
And just as fitting as the album beginning with an appearance by T.J. is that the album ends with a studio version of
"Gates," a live favorite that the band has ended shows with for years now. Also fitting is that it contains reworked lyrics
from a song on their first album. Given this album's title, and theme, a song about stepping out in Love is a breathtaking
closer: "We will wear compassion, we will wear it. And the gates of Hell won't stand against it." If this is
As Cities Burn's swan song, then it is a fitting, and powerful, one.
- Review date: 4/20/09; PReview date: 3/30/09, written by Josh Taylor of Jesusfreakhideout.com
It seems As Cities Burn is not one to stay in one place for very long. Listeners already got a
taste of this with Come Now Sleep's dramatic departure from its hardcore leanings of Son, I Loved You At Your
Darkest. Anyone believing As Cities Burn would stick with this new style would be terribly wrong, as their third
outing, Hell or High Water, is yet another change in genre. With a more organic, ambient approach, the
traditional rock sound is minimal at best. Surprisingly, this style suits them exceptionally well, and it's quite
astonishing how versatile the band is, given all their changes in genre. One thing that has not changed is the
quality of their lyrical content. It is profound and thoughtful, as usual, and listeners are bound to dig out
something new and fresh with each and every listen (Songs like "Made Too Pretty" always convict me). With passionate
vocals and amazing music to go with it, the third effort is indeed a worthy follow-up to their prior two releases,
and it just goes to show how talented Cody Bonnette and his bandmates really are. Though this is likely As Cities Burn's
last release, Hell or High Water will be one of 2009's finer records, and it's an appropriate way for them to
make their final bows as a band. Well done, As Cities Burn; you will be sorely missed.
- Roger Gelwicks